CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Kanawha County Circuit Judge Duke Bloom laid down the law in his courtroom Thursday and it wasn’t a defendant getting a dressing down. Bloom was dealing with a motion filed by the Kanawha County Prosecutor’s Office offering one of their attorneys to help out Special Prosecutor Don Morris.
Last week, the prosecutor’s Chief of Staff, Dan Holstein, filed a motion with the court offering Morris help with the domestic-related cases he was assigned to handle after elected Prosecutor Mark Plants and his office were disqualified. Plants still faces charges in two domestic misdemeanors of his own. In that motion, Holstein called Morris’ pay of $200 an hour “excessive.”
During Thursday’s hearing to consider the motion, Bloom did not mince words.
“We are not seeking to meddle,” said Holstein.
“Well you are! In fact, in fact you are,” fumed Bloom. “You have criticized it is grossly inappropriate the compensation of the special prosecutor!”
“Your honor,” added Holstein. “I filed a corrective motion this morning and I realize….”
“I understand you did that,” said Bloom. “I got it about 10 minutes ago and I was really impressed with that being done 10 minutes ago!”
Holstein said he misspoke by using the word “excessive” and changed it to “inequitable” in the motion he filed Thursday morning. That wording didn’t sit well with the judge either.
“Again that is a totally inappropriate comment. It is totally inappropriate. It borders on ethical considerations,” stormed Bloom.
The judge wasn’t the only one who commented on the filing. Morris angrily defended himself.
“I don’t get mad and I don’t expect a personal apology and I don’t want one,” stressed Morris. ” What I’m upset about is the integrity of the special prosecutor has been attacked by these pleadings. In my opinion, they were done to direct attention away from Mr. Plants problems because a couple days before the county commission was talking about filing a removal petition against him because of the cost of the special prosecutor, then suddenly we have this memorandum filed.”
But Morris got really angry when he looked Plants’ direction.
“I spent hours preparing a response to this. That could have been given to the victims of this county,” said Morris. “Hours responding to an accusation…You can sit there and smirk all you want Mark. It’s not funny! There’s nothing funny about this! The problem was caused by Mr. Plants’ personal actions which caused his office to be taken off hundreds of criminal cases.”
Holstein renewed his offer for a member of Plants’ staff to join Morris on the special prosecutorial team to help him deal with the dozens of cases Morris is handling. Morris’ response was non-committal.
“I would love to have some help, judge. I’m going to have to think about it. Obviously the independence of the office is the most important thing right now,” said Morris.
Judge Bloom made it clear he was leaving it up to Morris to decide whether to accept the help or not and urged Plants’ office to back off.
After the hearing, Plants spoke briefly to the press outside the courtroom when questioned whether he planned to resign from office.
“I have no intention of sticking around a year and costing the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. That’s not going to happen. We have to see how my criminal cases work out and if they’re dismissed in a short amount of time, then it will work out for me,” stated Plants. “I have no intention of sticking around for years, costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. As a taxpayer, I’m appalled by that.”
The county commission’s initial bill from Morris was approximately $24,000.
Plants refused to comment on any other aspects of the case.
He was charged earlier this year with allegedly violating a protective order gained by his ex-wife. He was then charged with domestic battery after using a belt to discipline his son, leaving a bruise.
The charges would be dismissed in 2015 under a pre-trial diversion agreed to last month but now that agreement has been called illegal. The special magistrate handling the case has a hearing scheduled for later this month.